Lorne MichaelsS

Who: The creator of Saturday Night Live, Michaels has been producing the show for more than three decades.

Backstory: Canadian-born Michaels (né Lorne Michael Lipowitz) grew up in a family with a tenuous connection to the entertainment industry: His grandparents owned a movie theater in Toronto. After briefly writing and producing programming for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, in 1968 Michaels moved to Toronto to be a writer on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Eight years later, he decamped to New York after he convinced NBC's Dick Ebersol to take a chance on a new late-night comedy variety program.

Originally named NBC's Saturday Night—the name of the show was changed to Saturday Night Live two years later—Michaels' creation was startlingly unique at the time: with a house band, a scrappy group of sketch comedians, and a weekly guest star, the show was shot live in front of a studio audience, unlike most programs on the air. It quickly became a late-night institution, launching the careers of an entire generation of young comedians, and becoming the most successful late-night TV franchise in television history.

In 1980, Michaels left to pursue other opportunities, and in a show of solidarity, much of the cast followed him. But SNL quickly went downhill in his absence and when Michaels' other TV ventures bombed, he returned in 1985. He's been there ever since, but he's dabbled outside SNL over the years: His production company was responsible for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (and its predecessor, Late Night with Conan O'Brien), and for bringing SNL spinoffs like Wayne's World, A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, and MacGruber to the big screen. Along with his right-hand Marci Klein, the president of SNL Studios, Michaels produced Tina Fey's 2003's movie Mean Girls and her navel-gazing primetime sitcom 30 Rock.

Of note: From the beginning, Michaels has nurtured a seemingly endless stream of talents to stardom, including Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock, and Chris Farley. But it became clear that his glory days were officially behind him by the late '90s and early '00s; the show started to grow stale as a handful of key talents left and the quality of the writing declined precipitously. Some have suggested the falloff had to do with the newly-installed head writer Tina Fey; others have said that three-plus decades into the job, it was only to be expected that Michaels would lose his magic touch.

Whatever the cause, in 2006 NBC slashed the budget for the show amid falling ratings and there was even talk that the warhorse might be canceled altogether. The show has managed to rebound a bit in the past year or two (its coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign gave the show a big boost), but just how much longer Michaels will continue in the job remains an open question.

Personal: Michaels' personal life has never strayed too far from the office. Once married to SNL writer Rosie Shuster, in 2004 he wed his former assistant, Alice Barry. The couple lives on Central Park West and spends weekends in Amagansett.

True story: Michaels mentors new talent on the show, but he doesn't suffer fools. He's "banned" a slew of musical guests and hosts from ever appearing on the show again, including Frank Zappa (for mugging for the cameras); Milton Berle (for trying to upstage other performers); Steven Seagal (for being, well, Steven Seagal); Cypress Hill (for smoking weed onstage); and Adrien Brody (for "improvising" by putting on a dreadlock wig and talking in a fake Jamaican accent during the show).



Vital Stats


Full Name: Lorne David Lipowitz
Date of Birth: 11/17/1944
Place of Birth: Toronto, Canada
Undergrad: University of Toronto
Residence(s): New York (Upper West Side); Amagansett, NY
Filed Under: Television